What has Jesus got to do with ISIS? A lot

Original article here: http://religionnews.com/2016/10/21/what-has-jesus-got-to-do-with-isis-a-lot/

Militant Islamist fighters ride horses as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province

(RNS) This week, the assault on Mosul — the last stronghold of ISIS — began. As a student of religious history, it reminded me of the battles and horrors of first-century Judea.

In 66 A.D. began a series of wars between the Jewish tribes of Judea and the superpower of the day: the Roman empire. Today, in the first century of the second millennium, world events strike a remarkable parallel. Only this time, they involve Muslims. Just as the Zealots in the time of Jesus killed Romans — as well as Jews who disagreed with them, in their bid to re-establish the Israelite kingdom, now we have al-Qaida and the so-called Islamic State group, or ISIS, slaughtering anyone in their attempt to re-establish the Islamic caliphate. But what really underpins such extremism?

Research into the motivating beliefs behind ISIS confirms that its theology is apocalyptic. Its members believe that fighting Western powers will precipitate the appearance of an individual called “The Guided One” (Mahdi) — and the second coming of Jesus. Jesus will then lead ISIS to victory against all the nations of the Earth, apparently. Indeed, its mouthpiece, “Dabiq,is named after the city in Syria that its members believe will precipitate this apocalypse — the city that, incidentally, they just lost to Kurdish fighters.

In 19th-century India, similar beliefs were evoked by clerics to stir up hatred against British rule. In 1899, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement, linked the violence and extremism among Muslims of the Wahhabi sect in particular to their belief in the return of Jesus from heaven, as a warrior-messiah who would wage wars for them and establish their political and economic supremacy.

A study by the Pew Center in 2012 showed that more than 50 percent of Muslims in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia collectively believe that the appearance of the Mahdi and the subsequent return of Jesus is “imminent.” That suggests ISIS has a powerful recruiting tool at its disposal. Its members are playing on the hopes of religious and spiritual rejuvenation, believed in by millions of Muslims worldwide, while giving it a nationalistic and barbaric twist.

The prophecies ISIS draw on do not originate from the Quran, but from various hadith, or traditions, attributed to the Prophet Muhammad but varying in their reliability. They state that when the second coming of Jesus appears, he would fight against the “Dajjal,” also known as the Antichrist. The Dajjal would be easy to spot, according to the narrations, since he would be known by the donkey he would ride. Various traditions say the donkey would eat fire and breathe smoke, and ride over land, sea and air so fast that “a month’s journey would become a day’s.” The donkey would also have one foot in the East and the other in the West, and would jump from nation to nation. Other traditions describe the donkey as possessing compartments in its belly, into which passengers could climb, and journey with it.

According to ISIS, all this is literal. Jesus himself will return and slay the Dajjal and his donkey, after which Jesus would establish the caliphate. Confused yet? Hasn’t ISIS already established the caliphate? So where is Jesus? Indeed, ISIS grew tired of waiting for its warrior-messiah and the Antichrist’s remarkable donkey, and established the caliphate itself, in a bid to hasten Jesus’ return.

Most ordinary Muslims know of such traditions as a matter of academic knowledge. For others however, these prophecies are deeply significant. Ahmad, who himself claimed to be the second coming of Jesus, explained the prophesies metaphorically. The donkey represented future modes of transportation as a sign of the times; the “deceiver” represented those holding the doctrine that Jesus was the son of God — a belief held by Christians but rejected by the Quran. Ahmad understood such a battle as theological, and denounced the idea of physically fighting non-Muslims as un-Islamic.

Whatever interpretation one takes of Jesus’ life and death, such prophecies must be interpreted by Muslims in accordance with the Quran; particularly the verses that safeguard freedom of conscience. The belief in a future warrior-Messiah who will wage wars for Muslims against non-Muslims is not in line with such Quranic verses.

We may defeat ISIS today, or tomorrow, but unless the beliefs that produce such extremism are eliminated, we will only be pulling out weeds by their stems and not by their roots. Yesterday’s al-Qaida became the ISIS of today and today’s ISIS may refashion itself into yet another monster tomorrow.

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Why the Quran Protects Against Radicalization: A Rebuttal to USA Today’s Nabeel Qureshi

This article first appeared on Patheos, here.

The dust from the bombs had barely settled in Brussels when the first anti-Islamic articles started appearing in major news outlets. In particular, Christian pundit Nabeel Qureshi was brought out on USA Today to make some rather remarkable claims about the Quran.

They were remarkable, not just for their falsehood but for their total lack of originality. As a reply, I could have just sent him this article, or this one or this one, but I felt compelled to write something with his name on it that would make him sit up and actually read.

Qureshi argues that radicalization occurs when people return to the original sources of Islam and learn of its barbaric teachings. He says, if we want to tackle radicalization, then we need to tackle the roots of terrorism in the Quran. It’s a point that has been made many times before, but does it hold water?

MI5 – the British intelligence service, certainly doesn’t think so. After studying hundreds of cases of Brits who went abroad to join ISIS, they concluded that the more religious you are, the less likely you are to join terrorist groups. Many ISIS recruits, in fact, indulge wholeheartedly in un-Islamic behavior like drug taking, prostitution and drinking alcohol.

Religious illiteracy was one of the only common threads between recruits. Otherwise, the demographic of radicalized individuals ranged widely in terms of education, socioeconomic status and family background.

This tells us that ISIS is in fact only fooling those who aren’t educated in their religion and that knowing the primary source of Islam, the Quran, is protective against radicalization.

It is however, undeniable that ISIS uses Islamic literature to support its bloodbath in Syria and Iraq. In this, Qureshi and ISIS have something in common: The arguments they both use are identical.

Both Qureshi and ISIS claim that the Prophet Muhammad was peace loving during the early part of his ministry and that as he became a political leader, it was then that the “violent” verses of the Quran emerged.

They forget that the declaration “there is no compulsion in religion” came about afterhe attained political rule, as did the teaching that fighting is only permitted against aggressors and that fighting is forbidden against those who seek peace.

Qureshi particularly focuses on chapter 9 of the Quran, claiming that this chapter lays the foundation of violent “jihadism” in the world. The chapter was revealed immediately after the Prophet of Islam had entered Mecca as a victorious conqueror and declared a general amnesty and forgiveness to all, Muslims or not,  — even individuals like Habbar, who had murdered the Prophet’s daughter, and Hind, who cannibalized the Prophet’s uncle on the battlefield.

Can you imagine ISIS forgiving so liberally?

Chapter 9 is its own best defense against allegations of both anti-Islamic pundits and ISIS terrorists alike. The Prophet Muhammad conquered Mecca because the Meccan idolaters violated the peace treaty he had held with them for two years. He had peace treaties with other tribes too — some who had also violated their pacts and some who had not.

Having conquered Mecca after they violated their treaty by mercilessly butchering Muslims for accepting Islam, chapter 9 declared that other tribes who had similarly violated their pacts by aiding and abetting the Meccans had de-facto re-established war on Muslims. Contrary to what Qureshi claims, chapter 9 is emphatic that for their part, Muslims must keep their peace treaties with such idolaters who have been true to their pacts:

“Allah is clear of the idolaters, and so is His Messenger…excepting those of the idolaters whom you have entered into a treaty and who have not failed you in any thing nor aided anyone against you. So fulfill to these the treaty you have made with them till their term. Surely, Allah loves those who are righteous.” (Quran 9: 3-4)

I would challenge Qureshi to show a passage of the Bible that is as emphatic in teaching its adherents to keep to their promises and treaties during times of war.

And that’s the key point. Muslims were at a time of war when verses relating to fighting were revealed. Yes, the early Muslims were commanded by God to fight non-Muslims. This is no secret. The reason for this is not because the latter had not accepted Islam. Were that the case, then the Quran wouldn’t advocate keeping peace treaties with idolaters, as quoted above. The reason is clearly stated alongside the first injunction to fight:

“Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged…those who have been driven out of their homes unjustly only because they said “our Lord is Allah” – and if Allah had not repelled some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down temples, churches, synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft-commemorated.” (Quran 22:40-41)

 Again, I would challenge Qureshi to demonstrate a statement from Jesus’ teachings as emphatic and clear on when the fight for freedom of conscience is necessary. This is perhaps the greatest irony in Qureshi’s piece, for Qureshi claims that as a Muslim, he could not reconcile verses in the Quran calling Muslims to fight in self-defense, with his own conscience, and so he became a Christian.

It is true that Christianity and Islam are not the same. In Christianity, there is no similar statement from Jesus on when a Christian should fight for freedom of religion. Islam on the other hand, claims to be a teaching covering all aspects of human life — whether in peace or in war. For this reason, the Quran teaches Muslims how to conduct themselves in war, whether it be relating to when fighting is permissible to how peace treaties must be honored.

The Quran acknowledges that sometimes good people must stand up for what is right and be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to establish peace on earth.

For this reason, in line with the MI5 report, it is education, not renunciation of the Quran that will defeat the likes of ISIS. This is not just a theoretical claim. It has been practically demonstrated by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community — a community of tens of millions of Muslims, who have not a single terrorist act to their name over their 127-year history. (And it has been practically demonstrated by millions of other Muslims — Shi’a, Sunni and other — as well.)

The reason? Ahmadi Muslims study the Quran from a young age and understand it deeply. Qureshi of all people should understand this best, given that before becoming a Christian, he was an Ahmadi Muslim too.

Tahir Nasser focuses his writing on Islam in the modern world, especially in relation to issues of terrorism, extremism and radicalization. He has served as the national UK President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students’ Association for three years and has spoken on numerous university campuses on theology and radicalization. Visit his site at www.tahirnasser.com or find him on Twitter @TahirNasser